Sem-ender thoughts about teaching journalism today

BAR NONE - Ian Manticajon - The Freeman

This week is the final week of classes, with next week being the final exam week at the university where I teach a course on journalism principles and practices. I have been looking forward to the end of the semester not because I am tired of teaching, but because I pity my students who have to endure the unusually-high heat index this summer.

Some students have suggested that we shift to online mode so they can attend classes from home and avoid the commute to school, but I insisted on face-to-face classes. A sudden shift to remote or online classes is a big joke, particularly if no adequate preparation and systems are in place to support effective online learning.

But it is not the high heat index that makes this semester notable. In my case, it’s the challenge of teaching Journalism in the age of rapid digital advancements, including generative AI. I had the prescribed syllabus and planned to follow it when the semester began in February. After some thought, I decided to teach by instinct. I focused on what I believe will truly help my students understand journalism amidst today’s technological whirlwind.

How do you teach the beat system in an age of shrinking newsroom staff? How do you teach integrity, the core of journalism, in a time of short attention spans, AI replacing human ingenuity, and social media driving misinformation? How do you teach accountability when journalism’s watchdog role is undermined by public information offices using social media to control the narrative, able to do so because serious, adequately-paid journalists are scarce these days?

How do you persuade students to pursue journalism after they graduate? Tell them to write news, even if only for the early part of their careers before moving on to other fields. Journalism is a solid foundation for any communication-related career, including marketing and public relations. Will that be enough to convince them?

How do you teach lead writing and news structure to Generation Z? The ones born in the social media and smartphone era, captivated by multimedia and bored by print, with short attention spans due to constant distraction by gadgets in their pockets and hands. How do you teach the importance of multi-sourcing to a generation accustomed to getting information online rather than going out into the field, interviewing real people, and taking notes with real pens and notepads?

This semester saw my students and I in a love-hate relationship. Modesty aside, I’ve always received 'Excellent' ratings from student evaluations. With this record, I’m secure enough to push my students hard, even if it earns their ire. Some of those to whom I gave a failing grade of 5.0 for late submissions may find it unforgiving. For those who are used to praise, and if necessary, critical evaluations coated in compassionate language, my brutal assessments and fierce revisions of their work may be unwelcome.

In the end, I’m satisfied that most of them came through and produced good work, with some producing truly excellent work. I’m confident in unleashing them as journalists into a world dominated by ethically unhinged big tech players, authoritarian leaders, and others who detest accountability.

Truth, fairness, and integrity are the core values of journalism. Embody these values in concise, clear, and impactful prose, and journalism becomes very powerful. It can win the battle against disinformation. It can hold accountable those in power.

I’m writing about this now because I’m inspired by Maria Ressa’s speech. She spoke before Harvard University’s Class of 2024 yesterday, warning: “The fascists are coming.”

Her words: “The war isn’t just happening in Gaza, in Sudan, or in Ukraine. It isn’t just out there. It’s in your pocket. Each of us is fighting our own battles for facts, for integrity. Because the dictator-to-be can zoom in and target each of us.”

Maria Ressa reminded the audience that they are standing on the rubble of the old world that was, “and we, you, must have the courage, the foresight to imagine – and create the world as it should be: more compassionate, more equal, more sustainable.” She urged the graduates to use their Harvard education to make the world safe from fascists and tyrants --similar words I find myself telling my students to rouse them from complacency and the allure of their blue screens.

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